Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)

Canada has aligned the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). The updated program, referred to as WHMIS 2015 has four main components:

  • Hazard identification and product classification,
  • Labeling
  • Safety data sheets
  • Worker education and training

Safety & Risk Services (SRS) established and maintains the UBC WHMIS program, as part of the overall workplace health and safety program. On this page you will find general information on the UBC WHMIS Program. For detailed information, refer to the UBC WHMIS Program Document on the Chemical Safety Resources page.

Hazard Identification

What are the hazard classes and categories?

Hazardous products are divided into two major hazard groups in WHMIS 2015:

  1. Physical hazards
    • Based on the Physical or Chemical properties of the product such as flammability, reactivity, or corrosivity to metals
  1. Health hazards
    • Based on the ability of the product to cause a health effect such as:
      • Eye Irritation
      • Respiratory sensitization (may cause allergy or asthma symptoms, or breathing difficulties)
      • Carcinogenicity (may cause cancer)

These groups are divided into classes and some classes are further divided into categories. The category tells you how hazardous the product is (category 1 within the same hazard class, is more hazardous than category 2)

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What are the types of labels for hazardous products?

There are two main types of WHMIS labels:

  1. Supplier labels
    • It is the responsibility of the supplier to provide a supplier label for each hazardous product
    • A supplier label must include six fields of information and must be bilingual

  1. Workplace labels
  • Needed if a hazardous product is produced and used in the workplace, if a hazardous product is decanted into another container or if a supplier label must be replaced
  • At minimum, a workplace label must include:
    • The product identifier (name)
    • Safe handling information
    • Reference to safety data sheet

    Refer to the UBC WHMIS Program Document for more information and to the Chemical Safety Resources page for templates that can be used to generate workplace labels.

    It is possible in the course of your work to come across hazardous products that have a supplier label generated before WHMIS 2015 came in to effect.  Before working with the product, replace the label with a WHMIS 2015 compliant label (supplier or workplace label).

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    What are pictograms?

    Pictograms are graphic images that immediately show you what type of hazard a hazardous product represents. They have a red, diamond-shaped border; inside the border is a symbol that represents the hazard (e.g. fire, health hazard, corrosive). The “biohazard” pictogram is the only one without a border. Pictograms are assigned to specific hazard classes or categories.



    How do I request or update a laboratory hazard door sign?

    Laboratory Hazard Door Signage plaques provide emergency responders with a comprehensive view of the hazard classes contained within a laboratory space to determine an appropriate and effective response to emergency situations.

    The symbols of on the hazard door signs generally resemble WHMIS pictograms. To see what each sign symbolizes, refer to the Laboratory Hazard Signage Document. These signs need to be updated as research changes, labs acquire and/or dispose of hazardous substances, status of permits change (e.g. biohazard, radiation) or contact in formation changes (e.g. new lab manager). To request a new sign or an update to an existing one fill out the Laboratory-Hazard-Signage-Application-Form (WORD) and email SRS Research Safety
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    Safety Data Sheets

    What are Safety Data Sheets?

    Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), formerly called Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), are documents that provide information about hazardous products and advice about safety precautions. SDSs provide more information about products than labels do and are important resources. They have a standard format containing 16 sections that have to appear in a specified order.  An SDS provides information on the following:

    • Identification – for the product and supplier
    • Hazard – physical and health
    • Prevention – steps you can take to work safely and reduce or prevent exposure
    • Response – what to do in various emergencies (e.g. first aid, fire, spill)

    When should I consult a Safety Data Sheet?

    Always be familiar with the hazards of a product before you start using it.

    • Look at the SDS and match the name of the product on the container to the one on the SDS (Section 1)
    • Know the hazards (Section 2)
    • Understand safe handling and storage instructions (Section 7)
    • Understand what to do in an emergency (Sections 4, 5 and 6)
    • Ask your supervisor for more information and/or clarifications

    Where can I find Safety Data Sheets?

    A supplier must provide the SDS, in English and French, to the purchaser of the hazardous product either in hard copy or by electronic means. The supervisor is required to make sure that all hazardous products have an up-to-date SDS when it enters the workplace. The SDSs must be readily available to the workers who are exposed to the hazardous product.

    As part of the on-site orientation for new employees the location of the SDSs files must be specified. If you are not sure or you do not remember where SDSs are stored at your workplace, ask your supervisor!

    All employees must know the location of the SDSs at their workplace!

    How should I store Safety Data Sheets in my workplace?

    Storing of SDSs in the workplace can be done in various ways. Printed SDSs can be cataloged alphabetically and placed in binders. Storing of SDSs in electronic format must comply with the following requirements:

    • All employees have access to and are trained on how to use the computer or device
    • The computers/devices are kept in worker order
    • The supervisor makes a hard copy of the SDS available to the employee or health and safety committee/representative upon request

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    Worker Education & Training

    Who needs to receive WHMIS education and training?

    You need to receive WHMIS education and training if one or more of the following applies to you:

    • May be exposed to a hazardous product dues to your work activities (including normal use, maintenance activities, or emergencies)
    • Use, store, handle, or dispose of a hazardous product
    • Supervise or manage other workers who may be exposed, or use, store, handle, or dispose of a hazardous product
    • Are involved in emergency response

    The supervisor must assess the training needs of a worker at least annually or when granted by changes in the workplace.

    How is WHMIS education completed at UBC?

    WHMIS education is part of several courses offered by Safety & Risk Services. To register for courses refer to the SRS Research Safety Training page.

      • General Audience WHMIS” – is required for all workers who work with a hazardous product or may be exposed to a hazardous product in the course of their work activities. The course is offered online and certification requires passing a knowledge exam.
      • Chemical Safety Course – is mandatory for all faculty, staff, visiting scientists and students prior to applying for or having access to areas where chemical hazards are being handled or stored. The course consists of seven online modules (module 2 covers WHMIS) ending in quizzes, one final exam and one practical session.
      • Introduction to Laboratory Safety Course – mandatory for undergraduate students volunteering or undertaking a project under the constant and direct supervision of a senior lab member and who will never be working independently in the lab. The course has eight online modules ending in quizzes (module 3 covers WHMIS).
      • Several UBC units (Student Housing and Hospitality Services, Building Operations) provide in person WHMIS education for their employees either as part of New Employee Orientation or as a WHMIS course.

    It is the responsibility of the supervisor to direct employees to the appropriate course for their job duties.

    What is the difference between education & training?

    The education and training components of WHMIS have the common objective of teaching a worker how to work safely with hazardous products. While education provides general WHMIS knowledge, training is specific to the workplace. For example, if in the WHMIS course you are learning what are the fields on a workplace label or where to find emergency response information on an SDS, during training your supervisor will show you where the supplies to generate a workplace label are or where the spill kit is located.

    Training can also include site-specific Safe Work Procedures for the safe use, handling or disposal of hazardous products.

    It is the responsibility of the supervisor or designated person to provide workplace specific WHMIS training.

    If you have been successfully educated and trained in WHMIS, you must be able to answer the following four questions for every hazardous product you work with:

    • What are the hazards of the product?
    • How do I protect myself from those hazards?
    • What do I do in case of an emergency?
    • Where can I get more information?

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    Chemical Safety Resources & Documents

    How to find additional Chemical Safety Information?

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